Rewriting the MLB rules: Making a case for trading draft picks

We’ve all had our share of fun roasting Alex Rodriguez and Colin Cowherd for not knowing that you can’t trade draft picks in Major League Baseball. The ridicule is well-earned: both of these guys make enough money pontificating on sports that they can hire someone to do some research for them. If they are making statements on air without checking to see what if it even makes sense in MLB and other sports, then that’s on their producers for allowing that to happen.

But did these two ill-informed talking heads stumble on a good idea? Should MLB teams be allowed to trade picks?

Probably not for a star of Shohei Ohtani’s caliber, because the only way to make the values match up would be to trade so many picks that a team would set its farm system back for a decade. Sure enough, some GM would do exactly that if the chance arose, especially because, by the time of reckoning came for a barren farm system, there would likely be someone else in that GM’s chair.

But let’s think about it from the other side. It was relatively clear going into the most recent draft that LSU’s Paul Skenes was the top prospect. Because the Pittsburgh Pirates had the first pick, they were more or less locked into selecting Skenes, with the only alternative being to take a less talented player. But what if that just didn’t work for the Pirates? Maybe they didn’t think they could sign Skenes to a deal they could. Maybe they would rather have a player who is closer to reaching the majors. Maybe they just didn’t think Skenes was as good as the rest of us did.

What if, in those circumstances, the Pirates could do what the Chicago Bears did in the NFL draft and trade the first pick to the highest bidder? The Bears came out of the deal with wide receiver DJ Moore and four premium draft picks, which should jump-start their rebuild faster than one player could.  Would the Pirates get a similar haul if they could deal their first pick?

Of course, the Pirates could have drafted Skenes and turned around and traded him. They would probably still end up on the hook for his signing bonus if that happened, so it’s not an ideal outcome. Plus, in a lot of years, a draft pick is like a new car that loses value as soon as it leaves the lot.  The team with the pick might have more leverage if they trade it to a team that can choose among several players.

Most years, the first pick isn’t as clear-cut as Paul Skenes. If there are three or four players who are in the running for the top pick, and the team with the fourth pick is completely sold on one guy, they could swap picks and throw in a prospect. That way both teams benefit.

Here’s a couple of caveats. I would only allow trading of first-round picks. Maybe it would be cool to allow teams to trade 18th-round picks, but it feels like it would just cause a mess. Also, I would not allow teams to trade players on their 40-man rosters for picks. Again, it just feels like it could be a problem. Maybe after a couple of years, the concerns would resolve themselves and the limitations could be eliminated.

What do you think? Would you want MLB draft picks traded? Let us know in the comments section below.